pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Witness

Reading: Mark 12: 41-44

Verse 43: “This poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others”.

This passage is a hard passage for many Christians today. Part of me wonders if it is a stay-home passage. That is a passage that people know is being preached on so they choose to stay home from church that day or they quit reading the blog at that point. It is a passage that challenges us to our core if we are willing to consider Jesus’ message and to really look within to see if we are equalling the example set by the widow.

“This poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others”. She only put in two small copper coins. They were worth just a fraction of a day’s wages. This would be equivalent to a $40,000 a year business person putting in a couple of dollars at church today. Jesus and the disciples have watched rich person after rich person throw large sums of money into the temple treasury. Compared to their large gifts, it is hard to say that the widow’s offering is “more” than theirs. Yet Jesus says it is more. In fact, more than all the others.

No matter how big or small our offering is today in terms of cash value, I wonder if Jesus would say our offering was “more” when set beside all the other gifts brought to our church today? It is NOT about the cash value of the gift but is about the cost to the giver. A four-year-old could bring the best offering today, just as the widow did. Jesus explains why the widow’s gift was such. Jesus says, “They gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything – all she had to live on”. Wow.

Some folks blanch at the word “tithe”. Compared to the widow’s faith, even 10% might look weak. There was not only great cost for the widow, there was a deep, deep faith on display. When you consider what you bless your church or community of faith with each week, does it demonstrate such cost and such faith in God? In not, I ask you to reconsider your faith.

Dear Father who blesses me so richly: may I ever give to you as the widow gave. Whether my time or my money or my gifts, may the portion I give you reflect the love you have for me. Amen.

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Watch Out

Reading: Mark 12: 38-40

Verse 38: “Watch out for the teachers of the law…”

Jesus is teaching a large crowd in the temple when He shares some observations about the religious leaders – the teachers of the law. This passage is one of several we find in the Gospels where Jesus addresses the appearance of these men and then contrasts it with what is actually inside of their hearts. In reality, this is an issue we all face.

The teachers love their positions and the cultural respect that comes with the title. The teachers of the law were the top of the social ladder. All young boys dreamed of becoming rabbis when they grew up. Only the best and the brightest would be selected for advanced study and from there only a portion would become a rabbi. One can work so hard to get ‘there’ that sometimes we forget why we were aiming at that goal.

Jesus observes that the teachers wear long robes to be noticed. They like people to see them and to call out to them. Today there are lots of people who dress a certain way to draw attention to themselves. The teachers like the important seats – again so that they will be noticed. Some today like to be front and center to be seen. The teachers “devour widow’s houses”, using their power and authority to take advantage of the elderly and the powerless. Today folks in power prey on the weak and defenseless, using their authority to manipulate and sometimes even to abuse.

While today’s passage speaks most directly to those of us who are pastors and priests, it applies to all people who have any degree of power or authority. When we allow the title or the recognition to be more important than loving and serving others, then we have lost sight of the #1 command to love God and neighbor. We must all remind ourselves over and over that this is our call. When temptation arises to use our power or authority for personal gain, we must repent of our sin immediately. In the battle with pride and ego and self, may we ever strive to remember that all we have and are is a gift and blessing from God Almighty. Ever and always, may all of our thoughts, words, and actions be pleasing in God’s sight.

Lord, each day may I seek to love mercy, to act justly, and to walk humbly with you, my Savior and King. Amen.


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Sing God’s Praises

Reading: Psalm 146

Verse 5: “Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose help is in the Lord his God”.

The psalmist has chosen God. He will praise God and he will put his trust in God. In contrast to this, the psalmist addresses where many put their trust – in man. He writes, “Do not put your trust in mortal men, who cannot save”. They die and return to the earth; their plans end with them. We often extend this idea to the things of men. We place our trust in our possessions, in our wealth, in our titles, in ourselves. All of this is finite. None of this has the power to save. Only the Lord can save.

The psalmist goes on to write, “Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose help is in the Lord his God”. We can place our trust in God because God is the maker of all and because God “remains faithful forever”. This contrasts sharply with men and the things of man. God is also pure love and goodness. Because of who God is, because God is faithful to his children, the cause of the oppressed is upheld, food is given to the hungry, prisoners are set free, the blind receive sight, those who are down are lifted up, the alien is watched over, the orphan and the widow are sustained. God cares for and loves on the weak and powerless. God gives hope and strength to the least and the neediest. How does the God who dwells in heaven do all this? Through those who are faithful.

Remember where the Psalm began – with the rulers of the earth. Their plans cannot save, they fade. They are concerned with themselves and their things. Contrast this to the desires of God. The endless love of God is concerned with those who are in need. There is poverty and neglect in our cities. Many sit in prisons – some with bars and some without. Injustice and abuses of power splash across the headlines and our feeds. A stream of aliens, orphans, and widows nears the land of opportunity. As the people of God, how are we making God known in the midst of all this hurt and pain and sadness? How are we working alongside God to alleviate the affects of poverty and injustice and inequality and prejudice? When we enter into the places and into the lives of those affected by these things, we bring the hope and love of God with us. We are opening the door for them to know God, to know God’s endless love. One day they will also sing God’s praises. May the work of our hands and feet and the love in our hearts make it so.

Lord, make me an instrument of hope, love, and peace. Amen.


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To Whom Are We Called?

Reading: Ruth 1: 15-18

Verse 16: “Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God”.

Our daughter-in-law has decided to take Naomi’s advice and to return to her own family. But in spite of repeated encouragement to do the same, Ruth boldly says, “Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God”. There are words with a lot of power. These are words of deep commitment. These words are a gift of love. Ruth knows Naomi’s vulnerability as a widow. It is a vulnerability that she knows herself, although she is in a better place in life. Ruth is able to work. She certainly could remarry. But she chooses to put these things aside to love and care for Naomi. It is a sacrifice, a deep commitment to love the other and to love God.

Throughout time, people of faith have exhibited and lived out this same DNA. Twelve men left all and followed Jesus. Others joined their cause, throwing their life and their lot in with the Son of God. As time moved on, man after man, woman after woman, has been willing to follow in Ruth’s footsteps, in the disciples’ footsteps. Where you go Jesus, I will go. Your people will be my people. Each of us – some in small ways, some in big ways – has this same DNA coursing through our veins. Just as something stirred inside of Ruth, leading her to declare her love for Naomi, the Spirit stirs in us too, calling us to trust in Jesus, to throw our lot in with Him, to step out into the unknown, and to see experience the power of God at work in our lives.

Ruth decided that Naomi and her people would be hers too. She committed to Naomi’s God as well. As Christians, our call is to Jesus and to His people. The question for many of us then remains this: to whom are we called? Who are our people? Who is the Lord Jesus Christ calling me to? Who is He calling you to?

Lord, I can hear your call. I can sense your tug. Confirm in me the direction to step, the path to walk. Help me to discern what you want of me. Thank you for the signs. Keep them coming. Strengthen and encourage me to follow on, each step that you lead. Through the power and presence of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, may I be a faithful follower each day. Amen.


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Trust in God

Reading: Ruth 1: 1-18

Verse 11: “Return home my daughters. Why would you come with me”?

Naomi had arrived in Moab with a husband and two sons. In time, the two sons married two Moabite women, Orpah and Ruth. They were married ten years. During this time in Moab, Naomi became a widow and had to rely on her sons and daughter-in-laws for care and provision. This would have developed a strong relationship with Orpah and Ruth. After ten years, both sons die, leaving one older widow and two younger widows. Soon thereafter the famine ends and Naomi decides to return home to Judah to live amongst her own people. Initially Orpah and Ruth prepare to leave Moab, their homeland, to go with Naomi.

Naomi realizes this and tells them to stay in Moab. Naomi says, “Return home my daughters. Why would you come with me”? She encourages them to remarry, to find a new husband in their native lands. In the event that they do not remarry or if it takes time, at least Orpah and Ruth can return to their parents’ homes for food, shelter, … Orpah sees the logic in this this and kisses Naomi goodbye. I think I would have been tempted to stay if I was in this situation. The familiar is comfortable, it is more secure. Being married and having a family was of utmost importance. Orpah made a sensible and good choice.

When have I faced a similar decision? When have I had to choose between staying with the known versus stepping out in faith? When have you faced such a decision? For some it is going off to college, for some it is getting married, for some it is transferring to a new job in a new place. For some it is ending a relationship or saying goodbye to a loved one. Each involves risk or doubt or grief or all of these and more. Each requires a trust in God. For me, it was leaving a long teaching career and entering full-time ministry. God has been with me as I have gone to foreign lands and experience new challenges. God has gone with me and I trust that He will continue to do so. May it be so for you as well.

Lord God, thank you for always being present, always bringing me courage and trust. May I ever cling to you as life continues to happen. Amen.


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A Faith Still There

Reading: Mark 10: 46-52

Verse 46: “As Jesus and His disciples… were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus, was sitting by the roadside begging”.

As Jesus is beginning His last journey to Jerusalem, He encounters a blind beggar named Bartimaeus. In Jesus’ day, the term ‘blind beggar’ would maybe seem redundant. Almost all who were blind or lame or deaf or otherwise disabled had to beg to survive. There were no social services in Jewish society, no places that cared for those with a disability. Yes, the Jews had a place in their hearts for the orphan and the widow, but not for people like Bartimaeus.

Bartimaeus’ life would be lonely and hard. His blindness would carry the stigma of sin and, with that, he would be shunned and ignored. Life would be lived on the fringes of society, survival dependant on what folks who passed by on the street would give to this man. The regular passersby would quickly grow accustomed to the man always there begging. These people would quickly become like the many in cities today who walk right past the homeless as if they were not even there. After a while the emotional weight of this would be greater that the affects of the physical disability itself.

When people are ignored, intentionally passed by, it affects how they feel inside. Questions of worth begin to mount. Anger against those who just pass by builds. It would be easy to question God and to become bitter towards God. It would’ve been understandable for Bartimaeus to disconnect from God. But he does not. His faith is still there. And Jesus is on the way.

Lord, help me to see those on the fringes. Continue to create in me a heart that sees and responds. Build up the Holy Spirit in me so that the voice is loud and the nudge is strong. Give me a soul that cares as you care, that loves as you love. Amen.


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Understand, Apply, Live

Reading: James 1: 22-27

Verse 27: “Religion… pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world”.

In James 1, verses 17 to 21, we are reminded that all good things come from God, that we should listen way more than we speak, and that we should humbly accept the Word planted in us. All of this leads up to the main purpose of our passage today: to do the things that God says to do. Today, James focuses on a few things to do.

In addressing his contemporaries, James is speaking to a problem that he must have witnessed. Jesus also addressed this problem often when dealing with the Pharisees and other religious leaders. These folks knew all of the letters of the Law inside out and could go on and on about it – they just struggled to live it out. Our words from James begin with this same issue too: “do not merely listen to the Word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says”. An example today would be the person who leaves church to go to the bar. The person proceeds to get drunk and to curse at their team on TV. The next morning they scoff at the homeless beggar as they drive to work scheming how to dishonestly earn a few extra bucks. And, yes, they are listening to the Christian radio station as they drive. Instead, James suggests to look intently into the Word of God – to study it and to understand it so that we can live it. In doing so we discover a freedom as we live God’s ways instead of the ways of the world.

In the closing verses today, James gets to the heart of living out our faith. He returns again to the idea in verses 19 and 20, reminding us to keep a “tight rein” on our tongues. Then James gives us two more action points. In verse 27 James writes, “Religion… pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world”. First, look after those in need. Orphans and widows would have been shorthand for all in need. Not coincidentally, we see this concept as a major emphasis in Jesus’ life and ministry. Second, live in the world but do not be of the world. Be the example of God’s love amidst the pain and brokenness. Be the light that shines hope into the darkness. Be the hand that offers a hand up and not just a hand out. Have an active and engaging faith. Don’t just read the Word, but understand it, apply it to your life, and live it out. May it be so.